I’m in this trilogy for the long burn. The interest here is in the
history of the old kingdom, and the way the characters interact with each
other. I think there are a lot of hints of what the old kingdom used to
harbor, and that maybe it’s waking up. But there is very little story here,
and it doesn’t beckon me much when I’m not reading.
As a fantasy novel, there was a lot of history in this story. Unfortunately,
the story of traveling down the river was very slow to unravel, even though
they were attacked without warning several times. The three cousins, Tam,
Baore and Fynnol, each had their own personalities, though they were so
clueless most of the time, and their ignorance was annoying at times.
Tam was the thinker, and he held the group together. When they met
Cynndl, the Seeker of the fairy species of this series, they brought him
aboard willingly, and he proved to be an asset. Even so, he mostly reacted,
and didn’t have much extra knowledge of the river, even though his species
travels the parallel road all the time.
The river is magical, and
has hidden passages. The travelers see this first from the man who claims to
be trapped, and then for themselves as they land on a hidden island (where
they get a magic flute), and somehow escape their pursuers (who traveled the
main river). Baore is nearly killed, but saved by a mermaid-like creature,
who demands a deadly payment from him, though he manages to convince her
that he isn’t the kind of person that she wants -so he agrees to deliver her
to another who she can manipulate.
There isn’t much to say about the
trip down the river, except that it yields unexpected surprises.
parallel story deals with Elise, a princess who is a pawn of the royals in
this kingdom. The head of the Renne clan is in a perpetual state of war with
the other powerful family, the Wills. But one wants to make peace, while the
other plots against it. This pits the Renne against each other as they try
to murder their leader. It also sends Elise on the run, to keep her out of
the hands of the Wills, who will use her to legitimize an old warrior’s
claim to the throne.
Alaan is the story’s Gandalf figure,
manipulating Elise and her pursuers, as well as navigating the magical
pathways of the landscape and the river. He helps Elise escape, though his
plans go awry in the end. On the other hand, her blind father, king of the
Wills, but pushed aside by his more capable brother, appeals to the minstrel
and the elf-like species. Elise is captured after meeting with Tam and his
cousins on the river in their sinking boat, but manages a spectacular escape
with help from Tam at the costume ball announcing her marriage to the
The plan to murder the head of the Renne family is thwarted,
and Elise manages to escape. But she’s still a pawn of Alaan and the others.
Tam and his cousins are involved. And the three spirits of the old kingdom
have been released, one of them thanks to Baore.
It looks like Alaan
is one of the Knights of the Vow, who were overrun hundreds of years ago
because they apparently broke their vow. Some survived, in secret, holding
onto the nearly-lost knowledge. He communicates with his old teacher, who
also taught the main bad guy, taking him in and showing him their magic
ways, before being betrayed.
There is way more history to this
world, which touches all aspects of every storyline. The author did a good
job of interweaving it with the river, Tam’s old village, the spirits, and
Elise’s manipulations. Some of it is ancient history, which destroyed the
world. More is mid-history, dealing with the feuds between the two families.
And still more is much more recent, as an uneasy peace is kept between them.
I thought the use of jousting to replace battlefields was a good way to show
how useless the feud actually is. Yet family members on both sides want to
keep it alive, at any cost.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t overly fond of
the characters, who did little more than act surprised or perplexed at
whatever they encountered. That made the story move very slow, and I didn’t
get a sense of what was at stake. Still, it’s a decent setup for the
cataclysm that will undoubtedly unravel in the later books.